In November 2017, the City of Kansas City, Missouri joined the Creative Cities Network of the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as the first and only City of Music in the United States.
Kansas City joins eight other U.S. Creative Cities, including Austin, Detroit, Iowa City, Paducah, San Antonio, Santa Fe, Seattle, and Tucson.
Members of the UNESCO Creative City Network (UCCN) include 180 cities around the world in 72 different countries. The mission of the Creative City Network is to leverage culture and creativity for sustainable communities.
The Creative Cities Network is a global coalition of mayors and cities focused on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the U.N. in 2015.
Upon recognition of Kansas City’s designation, Chris Hegadorn of the United States Mission to UNESCO wrote a congratulatory letter to Mayor Sly James stating:
The U.S. Delegation to UNESCO in Paris is extremely proud to now have nine cities representing American culture and art within this elite group. I am sure that you and your entire city are proud of your accomplishments and well aware of the direct, positive economic benefits of such international distinctions.
Cultural advocate Anita Dixon led the effort to complete and submit Kansas City’s application.
Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner helped to garner support within City Hall for the UCCN application to build international awareness of Kansas City as a tourism destination. Given the Creative Cities Network focus on Sustainable Development, my contribution focused on the role of cultural heritage as critical assets for sustainable neighborhood development.
Through my research and teaching in the UMKC Urban Planning and Design Program in the Department of Architecture, Urban Planning and Design, I supported the application to join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
The application built on 10 years of research on the role of cultural heritage for neighborhood revitalization. The inclusion of the Wendell Phillips neighborhood association and the UMKC Center for Neighborhoods helped to focus the UCCN City of Music application on a grassroots approach.
As downtown redevelopment is nearing completion, it is important for reinvestment to shift focus toward Kansas City’s historic neighborhoods and zones of culture. Ethnic neighborhoods throughout the city and diverse historic landmarks provide an important resource for enhanced neighborhood tourism and sustainable business development. This redevelopment process must be participatory and equitable. It must benefit the historic urban neighborhoods and residents without displacement.
International Partnerships: Building peace through music
Kansas City has already begun to have a significant impact on the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as an active participant. Attendance at the annual meeting is a requirement of membership. In June 2018, a Kansas City delegation attended the Annual Meeting in Krakow
Poland (City of Literature) and Katowice, Poland (City of Music).
The conference provided a great opportunity to promote the City of Kansas City Missouri and to learn more about how the UCCN functions. At the meeting, the City was officially inducted into UNESCO Creative Cities Network. Over 350 delegates from 160 cities around the world
attended the meeting sharing best practices and planning for future partnerships.
In the fall of 2018, the Kansas City partnered with San Cristobal del las Casas, Mexico (City of Crafts and Folk Art) to participate in a true cultural exchange. Kansas City musicians including Lee Langston, Odell Talley, Bryan Alford and Bukeka Blakemore traveled to Mexico to work with local musicians as part of a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival.
The band performed African American gospel songs with a local choir and orchestra while also learning about local culture. This cultural exchange allowed both cities to understand better our shared cultural experiences and the impact of African music and on the Americas.
Next Steps: Building a Sustainable City
Building a truly sustainable city requires attention to environmental health, social justice and economic growth. Culture and creativity are vital tools for these efforts to achieve progress on sustainable development.
The UNESCO Creative City of Music designation for Kansas City is not simply an award – it is a membership that requires sustained commitment to achieve a more just, equitable and inclusive community. As a UNESCO City of Music, Kansas City has the unique opportunity for greater leadership and recognition as a city that prioritizes the arts, culture and creativity for all neighborhoods.
About the Author
Jacob A. Wagner, PhD is a member of the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is the co-founder of the UMKC Center for Neighborhoods with Senator Shalonn Kiki Curls. His work focuses on the revitalization of urban neighborhoods in Kansas City and New Orleans. He is currently developing research on planning for music cities.
PHOTO CREDIT: San Cristobal Creative City (2018)
UNESCO Creative Cities Network https://en.unesco.org/creative-cities/
Cities of Music https://citiesofmusic.net/music-cities/
Kansas City – City of Music https://citiesofmusic.net/city/kansas-city/